Thursday, January 23, 2020

Vintage postcard: Bear possibly attempting selfie at Yellowstone

I have a small pile of old bear-themed postcards, but somehow I never got around to posting them (besides this adorable bear cub in 2012). There's no time like the present...

This one is a Mirro-Krome card by H.S. Crocker Company of San Bruno, California. (H.S. Crocker was founded in 1856 and is still thriving. It produces foil and non-foil liding, pharmaceutical labels, and other items.) The postcard was published exclusively by Hamilton's Stores, concessioners in Yellowstone National Park from 1915 to 2002.

The photograph itself was taken by W.S. Keller, who is credited underneath this caption on the back:


Turn about is fair play. It's his turn to snap a picture."

The year on the postmark is obscured, but the card was mailed with an 8-cent Eisenhower stamp. The only time it cost 8 cents to mail a postcard was between March 1974 and September 1975, so that's a good guess for the time frame.

The card was mailed from Yellowstone to the Spangler family in Reading, Pennsylvania. The note states:
"June 26
We're moving right along — like snails. Actually we're going great and really enjoying it here in Yellowstone. I thought you might like to see my new camera instructor! You'll have to see my pictures when you have a spare 48 hrs. Hope you are all well. Next stop Grand Tetons.
Hi & Betty & kids"

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Only long enough to make a beginning"

I might come back later and do a full Book Covers post on this — the 1958 science-fiction novel 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon. But for now I just wanted to share this excerpt, which I came across while flipping idly through the book:
"The most incredible thing about humans was not in their achievements, their art, their technical advancement, nor even their congenital irrationality. What strikes me most forcibly at this stage of our investigation was the prodigality, the pure and simple wickedness of the way in which they wasted their most precious possession — time. And not only time, but the stupidity and silliness with which they wasted their whole lives. I have studied the gravestones. Apparently their medical science could not advance the average age beyond seventy years, although many lived much longer. Now seventy Earth years is only long enough to acquire a background and a familiarity with their planet, only long enough to make a beginning. Humans did not realize what they could do with the few hours they had."

Official Presentation Card for Peter Max's amazeballs 1974 U.S. stamp

This is an Official (Psychedelic) Presentation Card (No. 285 of 10,000) that accompanied the release of the United States' 10¢ Preserve the Environment stamp on April 18, 1974. The stamp ⁠— 135 million of them were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing ⁠— was released in conjunction with Expo '74, which was held in Spokane, Washington, and described as "the first environmentally themed world's fair."

The stamp's illustration was done by German artist Peter Max, whose bright and jazzy style is well-associated with the 1960s and 1970s. Here's the information from the back of the presentation card, which measures 6 inches by 9 inches:
"Peter Max, perhaps the best known artist in the world, was commissioned to design this stamp for the World's Fair. The only one to be held in the United States in this decade. The perfect artist to interpret the Expo's theme 'Preserve the Environment', Peter's work has always reflected his involvement in nature. Peter's stamp art from his 'Cosmic' style both depicts the beauty of our yet unspoiled Earth and graphically prepares us for the sparkling galaxies of the future. The Stamp's main character is a male figure the artist calls the 'Cosmic Jumper'. It is running through the unique Peter Max Universe inhabited by people, flora, and animals representative of the environment. To the right of the 'Cosmic Jumper' is a head in profile that Peter defines as a 'Smiling Sage' celebrating tomorrow's fresh new environment. As one critic said, 'Joy and exuberance are a by-product of every Peter Max creation.'"
The presentation card, published by Fleetwood, gets extra points for being printed on recycled paper. It features, as you can see, a different Max illustration than the one used on the stamp. I wonder if that's the "Cosmic Jumper" in a different outfit, or perhaps one of his sidekicks.

According to the United States Postal Service, the modeler for this stamp was Ronald C. Sharpe. (I'm guessing that's the person who handles the type elements and other parts of the design that don't relate to the primary artwork.)

Much has been written about Max's six-decade career and how he essentially created the artistic backdrop for an era. He explained some of this himself in his 2012 book of biographical essays, The Universe of Peter Max. And he remembered the anniversary of this 1974 stamp in a Facebook post to mark Earth Day in 2018:

But, sadly, there might be a question as to whether Max himself wrote that Facebook post. A May 2019 article in The New York Times by Amy Chozick tells the sad and bizarre tale of people who appear to be taking advantage of Max's dementia:
"Several years ago, he received a diagnosis of symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, and he now suffers from advanced dementia. Mr. Max, 81, hasn’t painted seriously in four years, according to nine people with direct knowledge of his condition. He doesn’t know what year it is, and he spends most afternoons curled up in a red velvet lounger in his apartment, looking out at the Hudson River.

"For some people, Mr. Max’s decline spelled opportunity. His estranged son, Adam, and three business associates took over Mr. Max’s studio, drastically increasing production for a never-ending series of art auctions on cruise ships, even as the artist himself could hardly paint."
It is a depressing final chapter of Max's life. Also depressing is this: Max helped to put a "stamp" on the pro-environment movement that was taking place in 1974 ... and what can we truly say we've accomplished for Planet Earth in the 46 years since then?

As Chozick wrote in the Times: "(Max's) DayGlo-inflected posters became wallpaper for the turn on, tune in, drop out generation." Maybe there's still time for his artwork to inspire more of us in the current generation to tune in to reality and get busy fixing it. Isn't that what the "Cosmic Jumper" would want?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Book cover: "A Tree Is Nice"

  • Title: A Tree Is Nice
  • Author: Janice May Udry (1928-present)
  • Illustrator: Marc Simont (1915-2013)
  • So, to be clear: Both creators of this gentle book about trees lived into their 90s (at least).
  • Book dimensions: 6.5 inches by 11 inches
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Publication date: 1956
  • Pages: 32
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Provenance: Once part of the York County Library System. Checked out as recently as July 2017. But then it was stamped WITHDRAWN and, worse, "WEED" on the back cover. I realize that "weeding" is a book term, and it's a necessary part of the process of keeping a library relevant to its users. But it seems ironic and sad to mark a beautiful book about trees with the word "weed." I bought this book for 20 cents at the Dover Area Community Library's annual sale last fall. This book's next stop will be in a Little Free Library.

  • First sentence: "Trees are very nice."
  • Last sentence: "They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too."
  • Random sentence from the middle: "A tree is nice for a house to be near."
  • Goodreads rating: 3.93 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: Just a few days ago, Sarah Nelson wrote: "I keep musing about writing a picture book about trees, but can't imagine how I might write a tree book that is any more perfect and satisfying that this 1957 Caldecott winner."
  • Amazon rating: 4.7 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2014, Travis Ann Sherman wrote: "The gentle words of this book float along smoothly and effortlessly, and tell no tale. But as a tree lover, I feel the importance of throwing a spotlight on the trees around us. Kids inherently love trees for all the reasons listed in 'A Tree is Nice', because you can play in them, because birds nest in them, because you can pick their fruit and pick up their sticks. Everyone needs to be reminded how much we need and love them."
  • Plant a tree! We're hoping to plant some trees in our yard this spring, so this is a nice book to note as we think about tree types and locations. As explains: "Trees provide the very necessities of life itself. They clean our air, protect our drinking water, create healthy communities, and feed the human soul. But these life necessities are threatened around the globe. To address this, we’re launching an unprecedented undertaking: the Time for Trees initiative. Together, we can create change ... through trees." That effort aims to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities by 2022 — the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day.
  • Other books with the word "tree" in the title on my Goodreads to-read list (though these are not necessarily books about trees):
    • Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air, by Jodidio Philip
    • Irish Trees: Myths, Legends & Folklore, by Niall Mac Coitir
    • The Private Lives of Trees, by Zambra Alejandro
    • Under the Udala Trees, by Okparanta Chinelo
    • Dancing with Trees: Eco-Tales from the British Isles, by Allison Galbraith
    • A River Could Be a Tree, by Angela Himsel
    • Around the World in 80 Trees, by Jonathan Drori
    • It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree, by A.J. Jacobs
    • Stone Tree, by Gyrðir Elíasson
    • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben
    • The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
    • American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation, by Eric Rutkow

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Fantasy-themed bookplate inside "Shardik" paperback

This bookplate, replete with unicorns, faeries and elves, appears on the inside front cover of the 1976 Avon paperback edition of Shardik. It shows that the book once belonged to Deborah Frownfelter. I think it's possible⁠ ⁠— likely, even ⁠— that Deborah blacked out the original owner's name and then wrote her own name in silver ink atop the black. In that case, she would have just "inherited" the bookplate. According to Ye Olde Internet, this bookplate was produced by Antioch, one of the biggest names in that niche market. I wrote about another one of their bookplates in October 2018.

Richard Adams' Shardik, published in 1974, was his second novel after his amazing debut, Watership Down. Shardik didn't get nearly as much acclaim as Adams' first novel, and the reviews of the 600-plus page book were decidedly mixed.

Even this 2018 five-star review on Goodreads says the book is tough going: "It’s dense, philosophical, poetic, and sometimes reads like scripture. It took me a long time to get through, putting it down and picking it up again often. But it is also insanely ambitious, successful, and deeply beautiful. It’s a difficult read because it’s pace is almost real-time, but the level of detail in every aspect of it is impressive. It’s epic fantasy that reads like religious history. If you’ve got the inclination to stick with it, it’s rewarding."

Those most common rating on Goodreads is three stars. A 2013 reviewer there wrote: "This was a very thorough novel, though I had trouble keeping pace with it because of some of the absurdly long descriptive paragraphs. Adams is an amazing storyteller and his exploration of the human mind and religious reaction to a prophecied return are commendable. I simply found it difficult to follow along after a while because the paragraphs got so absurdly long sometimes (there was one paragraph that spanned three pages) and often the bigger paragraphs were largely descriptive of the milieu."

One can wonder if Deborah even read or finished the book after annexing the nameplate. An examination of the spine creases and interior pages would seem to indicate that the answer is no.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

1985 newsletter for "A Change of Hobbit" bookstore

Here's a nifty relic. Pictured are the front and back of the April 1985 newsletter for A Change of Hobbit, a wonderfully named bookstore in Santa Monica, California. It existed from 1972 to 1991 and moved around to a few different locations. Wikipedia notes that it was one of the first of the subset of science fiction/fantasy/horror bookstores that sprouted in the wake of the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's books. Hence the bookstore's name.

A Change of Hobbit served as the epicenter for a lot of fantasy/scifi fandom in southern California. This newsletter promotes upcoming "autograph parties" for authors Frank Herbert (who died less than a year later) and Terry Brooks. The reverse side features list of May's releases, which included Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds and Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (U.S. paperback edition, I believe).

Author Sherry Gottlieb was the bookstore's owner, and she has written a very partial history of the store on her website.1 It's just seven printed pages, and it's prefaced with "This memoir of her bookstore by Sherry Gottlieb was once a work in progress, but she lost interest before completion." It's still an interesting read, and it would be wonderful if she changed her mind and completed it some day. Here are some excerpts that focus on the business aspects of starting and runnning a bookstore ⁠— a topic that has always intrigued me:

  • "I thought the first thing to do would be find out how to get inventory, so I sat down in front of our bookcase at home and copied down the names and addresses of all the paperback publishers. I wrote each of them a letter saying that I was planning to open a bookstore and how would I get their books to carry."
  • "One guy told me to leave the books in boxes sitting on the floor of my bookstore ('People think they’ll find treasures in boxes of books.'). I began to discover the unique and wonderful camaraderie of independent booksellers who regarded other booksellers as colleagues, not competitors. I put cards on bulletin boards around town offering to buy used paperback SF/F novels for a dime apiece, planning to sell them for half cover price, a potential profit of anywhere from 8 to 75 cents each. In a couple of weeks, I had accumulated a few thousand books and a 32-issue run of the old pulp magazine Weird Tales (which I read before selling)."
  • "It had cost me $1500 to start up A Change of Hobbit. Every time I sold a book, I’d write down the title in a receipt book with carbon paper so I’d know what to restock. My first day’s sales were $32 ⁠— nearly 75% of what I’d anticipated making in an entire month! ⁠— and the next day, I sold the set of Weird Tales pulps for $100 profit. I was thrilled. A Change of Hobbit was a success."
  • "In retrospect, one of the brightest business decisions I made was getting a telephone number which spelled out GREAT SF. Countless people over the years found my store on referral from others who didn’t quite remember the store’s name, but they all remembered the telephone number!"
  • "It won’t have escaped the notice of a savvy reader that the costs of running the bookstore were more than I’d anticipated, nor that the income was insufficient to cover those costs, in spite of exceeding my wildest fantasies. That summer [1973] presented an unexpected drop in sales ⁠— the commuting students at UCLA all went away for the summer; they had been the majority of my customers."

Speaking of bookstores

We learned this week of the death of Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. Here's an excerpt from a 2011 essay that Peart himself wrote about his love for fellow drummer Phil Collins:
"I find it amusing that despite not meeting 'formally', Phil and I have actually encountered each other face-to-face, unknown to him, on two occasions, almost 20 years apart. In the late '70s, I was recording with Rush in London, and one day popped into a science-fiction bookstore in Soho called Dark They Were And Golden Eyed. At the door, I stood back to hold it for another patron, a bearded little guy in flat cap and overcoat, on his way out. Our eyes met for a moment, we nodded courteously, and I recognised Phil in his hirsute 'Artful Dodger' period, just before he was thrust into the frontman position with Genesis that would so change his life ⁠— from modestly successful drummer to immense international popstar."
According to Wikipedia, Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, named after a short story by Ray Bradbury, was a a science-fiction and comics store that specialized in science fiction, occultism and Atlantis. It also "played a key role in bringing American underground comics to the United Kingdom. ... The shop was also the semi-official correspondence address for the magazine Fortean Times from 1978 to 1981, and the magazine's team met every Tuesday afternoon in a room above the shop."

1. As I write this, the name of Gottlieb's Twitter account is "Evict the Traitor-in-Chief!" Her Twitter bio is: "Writer, Editor, Scrabble Hustler. Lifelong enthusiasm for peace and love, the Grateful Dead, dogs, and cannabis. Jewish Atheist."

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Postcard: Four horsewomen of the apocalypse

We need to let women lead the way! OK, here's a real photo postcard that was mailed from the super tiny village of Lamar, Nebraska. How small of a village? In the 2010 U.S. census, it had just 23 people. According to Wikipedia, Lamar had its own post office from 1887 to 1995, which seems inefficient given the population size (though it didn't drop under 100 people until after World War II). The original reason for the post office was, of course, the almighty railroad.

The postmark is blurred, so I don't know for sure the year that this postcard was mailed. The third number looks like a zero, which would put it between 1900 and 1909. I don't think that's an awful guess.

It was mailed to Miss Nina Stocks of Nashua, Iowa, and this is my best deciphering of the cursive note:
"Dear Friend: What do you know about this? Can you find me in the bunch? You can see I'm having a fine time. I am between my cousins, Abel Peterson's girls. Mr. Shattuck knows Mr. Peterson. And the other lady is Mrs. Danner.
Lovingly, Blanche"
So, if Blanche is between two people, that means she can only be horsewoman #2 or horsewoman #3, right? I'm betting she's #2, which would put Mrs. Danner in the #4 spot.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Chinese poster with Kamajī cosplay

I love good movie posters, and here's a cool one you might have missed.

Last summer, Hayao Miyazaki's transcendent animated film Spirited Away finally ⁠— nearly two decades after its original release in Japan ⁠— had an official theatrical release in China. As The Hollywood Reporter's Gavin J. Blair noted, "Miyazaki has legions of fans in China who predominantly know his work through pirated DVDs and downloads. ... All foreign films screened in China must win government approval."

Of course, to release the film in China, it had to be dubbed/revoiced into Chinese. Film stars from China including Zhou Dongyu, Jing Boran and Peng Yuchang handled that work.

Finally, a new set of marketing materials was required for the Chinese market, and they were jaw-droppingly gorgeous. You can see them on the blog Spoon & Tamago, which noted that "the Chinese release even includes a series of stylized posters featuring the voice actors and actresses in the film." And that brings us to the poster at the top of this post. It's film director, producer and actor Tian Zhuangzhuang getting into character as Kamajī, the humanoid spider who operates the boiler room of the mysterious bathhouse.

Again, you can see all the posters at this link.

* * *

Watching Films
(December 2019 update)

I previously wrote about the films I watched in November, so here's the list of what I viewed in December:

  • Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
  • Letter Never Sent (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1960)
  • Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1969)
  • Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
  • Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)